This weekend, I met the man who sorts, roasts, crushes, creams and packages the peanut butter you probably ate on your last PB&J. The man’s name is Sunland Inc. and he processes nearly 90% of the Valencia peanuts grown in America for major labels like Kirkland (of Costco fame), Arrowhead Mills, and Trader Joe’s. Prior to my visit to the “Valencia Peanut Basion of the Nation” in Portales, New Mexico, I had no idea just how amazing peanuts and peanut butter are. I probably would have told you, had you asked, that making peanut butter seemed about as exciting as, well, spending a day in the nuthouse. However, thanks to a guided tour by the shipping secretary (let’s call her Rosie), I came away with a great appreciation for peanuts and an even greater appreciation for the working men and women of the world who bear such ignominous titles as “Jar-Watcher,” “Rocks-and-Peanut-Seperator,” and “the-One-Who-Tightens-Loose-Lids-on-Peanut-Butter-Jars.”
Rosie’s face lit up with excitement when we mentioned that we were from out of town and were hoping to tour the factory. “Sure!” she exploded, and charged out from behind the counter to lead us into the back. Her smile drooped, however, when she opened the door to the sound of a silent factory and said, “Unfortunately the machines won’t be running today so you won’t get to see the factory in action.” We reassured her that we didn’t mind seeing a silent factory if she was still willing to show us around. Her confidence regained, she forged ahead with a beaming face, determined to make up for the lack of running conveyor belts with a non-stop stream of commentary and explanation on everything from roasting ovens to pallet loading. We saw where the ladies sat and picked out the rocks that were mixed in with nuts, we salivated over the smell of freshly roasted peanuts, we oohed and ahhed appropriately at the explanation of a metal detector, and marveled at the machine that could tell which jars had lids that weren’t properly tightened. Rosie tramped all over the factory grounds pointing out this machine and that storage area, and never missed an opportunity to eulogize the many wonders of the peanut–George Washington Carver couldn’t have had a more avid disciple.
When all was said and done, however, I came away from the factory with a lot more than a souvenir bag of salted peanuts and the company business card. What really impressed me was Rosie’s excitement over her job. As a member of the Armed Forces I am often stopped in the parking lot or at the gas station and thanked for my service to our country. It is easy for people to see me in my uniform and think that I’m doing something great by pursuing a “service” vocation. For a long time, I was of the same opinion. Policemen, firefighters, and soldiers–perhaps even priests, rabbis, and imams–seem to fall into a special category of vocation. After all, they work for the good of others and not for their own benefit and material wealth. The CEO, artisan, or factory laborer, on the other hand, work to make money and have their self-interest more prominently displayed in their chosen field of work. With this view of work in mind, it easy to create a hierarchy of altruistic and personal value and place the “service” professions at the peak, with the other jobs falling somewhere underneath. The result of such a hierarchy is that those people who pursue “service” professions are accorded praise and honor, while the working man is viewed as common-place, selfish, and somehow less intrinsically good.
However, this view of work is wrong-headed on two counts. First of all, even those people in the service profession seek to have their own needs met. It would be very revealing to see how quickly the ranks would thin if all monetary or commercial incentive were removed from those fields. Second, and more importantly, the Protestant Reformation squarely met the hierarchical view of work with a solid objection: Since God created man for the express purpose of working in and upon the earth, no job, however menial, is essentially worthless or meaningless. All work has meaning because all work is the means by which man fulfill their purpose before the Creator of the universe. Thus the baker, the chimmney sweep, and the fireman all stand on equal footing before God in personal value. The decision to make the best doughnuts and pies one can is no worse a decision than deciding to put one’s life in harm’s way to keep a house fire from spreading. Certainly these jobs have different value to the community at different times, and a society that is plagued by crime, invasion, or natural disaster will never have the means or reason to create beautiful music or gourmet dinners. However, the man who enables civilization to flourish is no better than the man who contributes to the flourishing of civilization.
Rosie should be proud of her peanuts. She should do her very best to produce the world’s most delicious peanut butter, and she is right to show off her handiwork the way a mother brags about her child’s latest report card. All work is valuable because work is part and parcel of the purpose and nature of mankind and brings glory to God in that it fulfills his goal in creating the world and working men and women upon it.